Melbourne, January 28: Roger Federer clinched a 20th grand slam title and record-equalling sixth Australian Open with a thrilling five-set win over Marin Cilic in Melbourne on Sunday.
The Swiss great was pushed, for arguably the first time at the tournament, before sealing a 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory under a closed Rod Laver Arena roof.
Federer's win, secured in three hours and three minutes, saw him draw level with Roy Emerson and Novak Djokovic on six Australian Open titles as he defended his crown.
The 20th grand slam title also saw Federer pull further clear of Rafael Nadal (16) atop that list.
In front of an adoring crowd, Federer gave up a break to lose the fourth set, but he steadied to edge past the fighting Croatian sixth seed in an enthralling decider.
Against an opponent he had beaten in eight of their previous nine meetings – including in last year's Wimbledon final – Federer was always a favourite and the 36-year-old would surely have welcomed the sight of a closed roof on a scorching hot day.
Instead, it was perhaps Cilic's nerves – and his wayward backhand – benefiting Federer the most early on.
Cilic narrowly escaped a break point thanks to a challenge before Federer was handed the perfect start, the Croatian framing an overhead into the net to give up his serve.
It was, at best, a nervous start by Cilic in his third grand slam final, as numerous errors gave Federer a 3-0 lead, an advantage the Swiss great was never going to give up.
Cilic settled as the opening set went on and he made his opponent work early in the second, Federer fired up after saving a second break point with a forehand winner.
Federer continued to push against the Cilic serve, forcing the 2014 US Open winner into tough holds in the third, fifth and ninth games, a gutsy second-serve ace helping during the latter.
Those gritty holds helped present Cilic a set point in the 10th game, but he tamely sent a backhand into the net.
However, Cilic recovered from a mini-break down in the tie-break as his forehand came up big, winners off that side seeing him to 3-3 and 6-4 before he sealed the set with an overhead.
Federer landed the first blow of the third set, breaking to 15 in the sixth game when Cilic sent a forehand wide, before he closed it out.
It seemed Federer would cruise to victory when he broke to open the fourth, but Cilic responded, breaking to love in the sixth game and taking a 5-3 lead with another forehand winner on his way to forcing a decider.
Federer, aided by an increasingly vocal crowd, had to save two break points to start the fifth set, suddenly needing a momentum shift having appeared in control earlier.
That arrived in the second game, a double fault and Cilic forehand into the net giving him the break, one he would build on to see out another historic win.
STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN Federer bt Cilic 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 6-1
WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS Federer – 41/40 Cilic – 45/64
ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS Federer – 24/4 Cilic – 16/5
BREAK POINTS WON Federer – 6/13 Cilic – 2/9
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE Federer – 57 Cilic – 68
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE Federer – 79/58 Cilic – 69/50
TOTAL POINTS Federer – 152 Cilic – 128